TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) - Taiwan's president announced Wednesday
that China will allow the island's participation in a key World
Health Organization body, a major goal in Taipei's campaign for
President Ma Ying-jeou's announcement that Taiwan would join
this year's decision-making World Health Assembly in Geneva as an
observer comes amid warming ties between the two sides, which split
amid civil war in 1949. The mainland still claims the island as
part of its territory.
Beijing normally objects to Taipei's participation in any
international organizations because that symbolizes national
sovereignty, and has successfully blocked Taipei's participation in
WHO since the island was expelled from the U.N. in 1971.
China did not immediately give explicit confirmation of Ma's
But in Beijing, Taiwan Affairs Office Spokesman Li Weiyi implied
it was true by saying that China is "optimistic" about Taiwan's
participation in this year's assembly, which begins on May 18 in
Taiwanese Health Minister Yeh Ching-chuan showed Taiwanese TV
stations a formal invitation to the May meeting from WHO Director
General Margaret Chan, suggesting that the island's participation
was a done deal.
Speaking to staffers at the Presidential Office, Ma said Beijing
had lifted its long-time objections to Taipei's participation.
"The mainland authorities have made a friendly gesture," Ma
Ma spokesman Wang Yu-chi said the island would participate in
the assembly as an observer under the name Chinese Taipei, the same
title it uses in the Olympics.
Relations between China and Taiwan have improved significantly
since Ma's election last March. Predecessor Chen Shui-bian was
reviled by Beijing, because of his support for formal Taiwanese
Taiwan - including under Chen - pushed hard for WHO
participation, because of the access to key medical information it
provides. It used the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003 as an example,
saying that Beijing's refusal to let it participate undermined its
ability to deal effectively with the deadly epidemic.